Archive for the ‘1896-1928 Campaigns’ Category

By Will Howell–Campaign Songs, Past & Present

Irving BerlinThe first time I heard this song, it ran through my head for days. Days. If I’d been able to vote in 1952, this song would certainly have run through my brain while I stood in the voting booth. The song was written for the Man from Abilene by the great Irving Berlin (left), who gave us such earworms as “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and (of course) “God Bless America.”

While praise is due to Mr. Berlin for Eisenhower’s catchy campaign song, I’d contrast the success of Ike’s original campaign song with the decision to pair original lyrics with familiar melodies. For a modern comparison of this latter composition, I’d point you to Lyndon Johnson’s campaign song, which paired the melody from the title song of Hello, Dolly! with pro-Johnson lyrics. (Hello Dolly! premiered in 1964, the same year Johnson faced reelection.)

Although there are no doubt earlier examples, I first noticed this propensity when we read The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Melodies (1840) for class. This book, along with several others, provided many, many options for singing supporters of Old Tippecanoe (and Tyler, too).While some were set to folk melodies I knew, many were not. (And if you’ve heard of “Turn out, Giovanni, turn out”…well, I’d like to play on your trivia team some time.)

John FremontThe years following Harrison’s election include many similar examples:

In “’We Want Yer, McKinley’: Epideictic Rhetoric in Songs from the 1896 Presidential Campaign,” William Harpine also noted that, ““Marching Through Georgia” seems to have had extensive appeal as a melody for campaign songs,” particularly in the 1896 election (79).

Although Harpine doesn’t note regional differences, I wonder whether the anti-Southern song was the most effective melody for a national campaign. In 1972, James Irvin and Walter Kirkpatrick argued that music’s rhetorical power came from both melodies and lyrics. They theorized that when familiar—and well-liked—melodies accompanied unfamiliar lyrics, the listener was primed to develop positive feelings toward the lyrics. In using the melody of a song that, in its original form, celebrated Sherman’s March to the Sea, campaigns in the Gilded Age may have—intentionally or unintentionally—alienated a whole region of voters.

Campaign Song GreeleyHorace Greeley (song cover sheet, left) puts my point more succinctly in The Log-Cabin Songbook: “People like the swing of the music. After a song or two, they are more ready to listen to the orators” (quoted from Robert Gunderson, “Presidential Canvass, Log-Cabin Style,” Today’s Speech 5 (1957): 19). Or if they don’t “like the swing of music,” maybe they’re not “more ready to listen to the orators.”


1900–Anti-Dems Cartoon–Adam Chomski

“The Fourth of July at Kansas City” is a piece of campaign rhetoric reflecting the belief of some voters in the 1900 elections that the Democratic Party is one of chaos, corruption, and insanity.  William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic opponent of incumbent president (and winner of the 1900 elections) William McKinley, is notably featured in a prominent portrait on the right side of the cartoon as a threatening figure who poses a danger to the country.  The first indication of the cartoonist’s belief that Bryan (and the Democratic Party as a whole) is unfit for the presidency is the top of the barrel in the back of the cartoon that has the “16:1” ratio written on it, the silver to gold ratio proposed for unlimited silver coinage.  This is a reference to Bryan’s steadfast adherence to “free silver,” a movement to tie American currency to silver that Bryan insisted would bring about better economic times.  Bryan’s adherence to free silver puzzled many voters because America’s use of the gold standard had brought about economic prosperity for three consecutive years under McKinley’s term, and the Gold Standard Act of 1900 was passed enacting this practice as law.  Bryan’s stance as a Silverite made voters feel he was simply stubborn for refusing to budge from his clearly defunct position.  In the words of Republican congressman Thomas Reed, “Bryan would rather be wrong than [be] president.”  Evidently, the cartoonist agrees. 

The issue of U.S. imperialism and the country’s military action in Cuba, the Philippines, and China is also on full display.  On the platform are Carl Schurz, Edward Atkinson, and William Lloyd Garrison Jr, vice-presidents of the Anti-Imperialist League, and Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Filipino rebels fighting the US.  Prior to the 1900 elections, McKinley’s term was marked by wars characterized by many American voters as imperialist.  American military involvement in Cuba and the Philippines was a major issue of contention on the campaign trail, an issue McKinley would later examine in what I consider to be the final piece of 1900 campaign rhetoric, McKinley’s Inaugural address.  The author of this particular cartoon evidently rebukes these accusations, instead choosing to paint anti-imperialists in the same negative light as the crazy socialists and Silverites in the background. 

Admiral George Dewey (left), the man responsible for capturing the Spanish Manila Bay colony in the Philippines, is also present on the platform.  It is no mistake that Dewey is present standing next to Bryan’s menacing portrait: Dewey was previously in the running for the presidency until he made a fool of himself by declaring the role of president to be “easy.”  Predictably, Dewey was mocked for his statement and quickly disregarded as a serious nominee for President due to his obvious lack of political experience.  Placing him next to Bryan leads the viewer to believe the same fate awaits him, a sort of guilt by association. Emilio Aguinaldo’s (right) presence also paints Bryan as a traitor to his country, souring his reputation in the eyes of viewers.  A banner in the upper left of the cartoon espousing Aguinaldo to be “a true democrat” solidifies the cartoonist’s intent, painting a sort of scarlet letter on the whole of the Democratic Party.  The banner to the right of Aguinaldo’s states, “we express our sympathy with the boxers.”  This refers to the Boxer rebellion, a protest by a group of Chinese against America’s presence in the country which was suppressed by American troops acting on McKinley’s orders. With the Boxer rebellion ongoing at the time of this cartoon’s publishing, the statement is treasonous and reflects poorly on Bryan’s character.  

In addition to Bryan’s anti-imperialism, he was widely opposed to trusts and made his opposition to big business associations a key element of his campaigning.  Supporters of McKinley, though, pointed to the hypocrisy of Bryan’s stance given the involvement of some of his key supporters in trusts and big business activities.  The cartoonist depicts this hypocrisy with his drawing of a large block of ice labeled “Tammany Ice Trust” in the middle of the cartoon, as well as a banner in the upper left-hand corner of the cartoon stating “down with the ice trusts.”  At the time, Augustus Van Wyck, New York Mayor Robert Van Wyck, and what looks to be John Carroll, the men encased in the block of ice, were associates of Tammany Hall, a political machine backing Bryan for president.  During Bryan’s campaign Tammany Hall was embroiled in a scandal over New York City’s “ice trust,” and its support of Bryan calls his positions and character into question. The presence of Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison II and the sign he holds (“Wide Open Chicago,” referring to the lawlessness engendering the city’s political corruption) doesn’t help Bryan’s campaign, either. 

Ultimately, this cartoon is a very powerful piece of campaign rhetoric in that it argues the viewpoints of Bryan’s opponents and exhibits the events and controversies surrounding his campaign.  It is a snapshot of the political climate of the time and a reminder of why Bryan failed in his efforts to gain the vote in 1900. 


IMAGE (and information):

1904–TR Keeping Cool–Amberly Ellis

 After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt ascended to the presidency, and eventually become the first “accidental” president to win a second term for the presidency on his own accord.  

Now a candidate for his second term, Roosevelt was in a position that especially required him to prove that he was capable of gathering his own support in order win the presidential election that year. Although he eventually entered into the presidency, The Republican Party had no intentions of ever selecting Roosevelt to be president. Republican leaders had nominated him to run for vive president with William McKinley in 1900 as an effort to remove him from the troubles that he was causing them in his governorship of New York, where he has been elected in 1898. When McKinley died, the 41-year-old Roosevelt would become the youngest man to ever assume the presidency.

Roosevelt’s ascendance into the presidency did not come without disdain. Upon his entrance to the presidency, Republican politician Marc Hanna was reported to say “ I told William McKinley that it was a mistake to nominate that wild man at Philadelphia…I asked him that if he realized what would happen if he should die. Now look, that damned cowboy is president of the United States.”

Although cowboy may have been only one of the many ways to describe the multi faceted and charismatic president, Roosevelt did indeed bring a new energy to the presidency. His experience in both the military and pioneering in the West brought a sense of coolness and personality that very few presidents since his presidency have been able to embody.

In 1904 Roosevelt would run for reelection. Although Roosevelt was popularly perceived as the more charismatic candidate among his competition, the Democratic opposition promoted themselves as the “sane and safe choice,” and they attacked the Roosevelt administration for being “spasmodic, erratic, sensational, spectacular, and arbitrary.” Roosevelt picked Senator Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana, a conservative Republican for his running mate.  Roosevelt would later be questioned for this decision considering the fact that he views as very liberal and charismatic, contrary to his reserved and conservative running mate.

The Democratic picked two conservatives, Judge Alton B. Parker, from New York, and eighty-one-year-old Henry G. Davis. Davis, a wealthy ex-senator from Virginia was the oldest man to ever run for the vice-presidency.

The race was predicted to be close, considering that there was not a huge divide in the way that the Republican and Democratic candidates stood on the major issued of time. Personality was the major difference between the two.  Both Roosevelt and Parker were for the gold standard, and although the Democrats were more outspoken against the issue of imperialism, both parties did not support it. They also both were for the rights of labor unions to be treated as citizens and the fair treatment and eventual liberation of Filipinos from American control.

 1904 would also be the first year that the Socialist party would run in an election. The Socialist Party of America at the time was a coalition of parties that was based on industrial cities with strong ties to ethnic communities that often worked in labor during the time period, such as the German and the Finish. The party elected Eugene Victor Debs for the presidency and Benjamin Hanford was elected for the Vice Presidency.

During the election campaign Roosevelt would ask voters to support his square deal policies. “Square Deal” referred to domestic programs that focused on three ideas. These ideas were the conversation of natural resources, control of corporations and consumer protection. His opposition would challenge Roosevelt on his anti trust policies and for accepting contributions from big business.

On August 6, 1904, Harpers Weekly magazine would feature a cartoon about the 1904 campaign titled “Keeping Cool.” Harpers Weekly was an American was political magazine that was based in New York City. It was published by the Harper Brothers and discussed many different subjects. Until the mid 1800s newspapers were primarily text, but in the late 1850’s Harpers pioneered a new process that enabled the inclusion of illustrations with text. This development arrived around the time of the Civil War and quickly changed the way that the American people saw the war that was taking places in their very own backyards. This inclusion of illustration in the magazine made Harpers Weekly very popular. It ran from 1857 to 1916 and featured domestic news, fiction, essays and humor.

In “Keeping Cool,” the cartoonist William Allen Rogers would challenge the compatibility of the 1904 Republican ticket. In the cartoon, the pair is depicted as incompatible. Prior to Roosevelt’s nomination for Republican candidate, many Republicans felt him to be too liberal for the ticker. Some of these attitudes are even depicted in the cartoon. In the cartoon the artists shows Fairbanks, frozen in a block of ice. He is cramped and closed in the block of ice, while Roosevelt looking vey cowboyish in his Rough Riders uniform is sitting on top of the ice shivering from the cold. The warmness and charisma of Theodore Roosevelt clad in his uniform is a start contrast to the cold and conservative Fairbanks.

By November 8, 1904 Roosevelt and Fairbanks would live by a landslide. Roosevelt would win 56.45 of the popular vote and receive more than 2 ½ million popular votes. No president before that time had won by such a margin. Roosevelt would prove to maintain such popularity throughout his presidency and even was said to regret his decision to promise not to run again after his reelection into office. After winning the election, Roosevelt would state, “ I am no longer a political accident.”

In time the implications of his policies and presidency would prove that there was definitely no mistake about that “damned cowboy” becoming president. He most certainly proved to be a man of the people.



1900–McKinley’s Inaugural–Adam Chomski

Inaugural addresses do not normally come to mind when discussing campaign rhetoric.  After all, the campaign is finished and a clear winner has been chosen.  In the case of William McKinley, however, his inaugural address serves as the final piece of his 1900 campaign rhetoric, wrapping up the words and promises he made over the campaign into one succinct speech and convincing his listeners why he is the right choice for president.  It was effectively his last “front porch” speech of the campaign, the polar opposite of opposing Democrat William Jennings Bryan’s “stumping tour” campaigning. 

On March 4, 1901, William McKinley stood before the nation to deliver his inaugural address, assuming presidential responsibilities for another four years and finalizing his defeat of Bryan, again.  However, unlike the inaugural address preceding his first term four years prior, this time McKinley chooses to remind the American public of his accomplishments during his first term and explain what the country must do to solidify them.  McKinley also uses his inaugural address to clarify the necessity of the country’s involvement in the many international conflicts marking his presidency and highlight the importance of a unified nation in fighting these battles.           

The first lines of McKinley’s address allude to the economic troubles facing the nation before he became president.  At the time of McKinley’s installment in 1897, America was facing a record deficit and serious economic instability.  He immediately set out to correct this by signing the Dingley Tariff act, which raised tariffs from 41% to 46% and allowed McKinley to negotiate reciprocal trade treaties.  Three years later, McKinley sought to further reduce the country’s economic anxieties by making the Gold Standard Act of 1900 law.  This act assigned gold a dollar value and tentatively placated the nation’s fears about the dollar’s strength.  In the process, the gold standard’s enactment effectively ended popular support for the policy of free silver, an issue long championed by William Jennings Bryan along his campaigns.  The effects of these two actions allowed McKinley to boast in his address about his returning the country to economic prosperity, declaring the US to “have a surplus instead of a deficit”, discuss how “the Congress just closed has reduced taxation in the sum of $41,000,000,” and crow about the fact “every avenue of production is crowded with activity, labor is well employed, and American products find good markets at home and abroad”.  Still, McKinley cautions the nation about maintaining its prosperity, insisting “its permanence can only be assured by sound business methods and strict economy in national administration and legislation.” 

McKinley then segues into a portion of the address where he praises Americans for their unification and pleads for them to continue joining together to guarantee continued progress.  This portion of the address in particular is recited in a “tough style,” and McKinley drives home how important it is for Americans to appreciate past difficulties and move forward with the same vigor as if they still existed. The president claims, “strong hearts and helpful hands are needed, and, fortunately, we have them in every part of our beloved country. We are reunited. Sectionalism has disappeared. Division on public questions can no longer be traced by the war maps of 1861. These old differences less and less disturb the judgment. Existing problems demand the thought and quicken the conscience of the country, and the responsibility for their presence, as well as for their righteous settlement, rests upon us all–no more upon me than upon you”.  Of particular note is McKinley’s allusion to “the war maps of 1861.”  McKinley was the last president to be elected to have served in the Civil War, thus making him the last president to lead an America he once saw truly divided.  McKinley’s civil war service lends credibility to his words and infers the importance of unification to a secure country.  Moreover, McKinley’s reference to the civil war is strategically placed: it connects him with civil war veterans like the ones he courted along the campaign, and it foreshadows the rest of the address’s focus on the wars the country has fought and is fighting abroad at the time. 

McKinley transitions to the remainder of the address by discussing military action in the context of America’s obligation to bring freedom and democracy to oppressed peoples around the world and ensure its continuation once US forces exit.  The beginning of this portion of the address is marked by McKinley’s insistence that America “make good” on its guarantees of Cuban independence following the end of the Spanish-American war.  But first, some context: during McKinley’s first term, the nation went to war with Spain over its occupation of Cuba, where an uprising by Spanish loyalists in January of 1898 caused concern for America’s safety.  Following the bombing and sinking of the USS Maine in Havana in February, America and Spain declared war on one another, which lasted until Spain’s surrender in July and the official end of the war on August 12, 1898.  McKinley vigorously reminded voters of American victory in Cuba along the campaign trail, making discussion of the issue prime material for his address. In it, McKinley asserts that “the peace which we are pledged to leave to the Cuban people must carry with it the guaranties of permanence. We became sponsors for the pacification of the island, and we remain accountable to the Cubans, no less than to our own country and people, for the reconstruction of Cuba as a free commonwealth on abiding foundations of right, justice, liberty, and assured order. Our enfranchisement of the people will not be completed until free Cuba shall ‘be a reality, not a name; a perfect entity, not a hasty experiment bearing within itself the elements of failure.’”  McKinley’s style during this portion of the address is as serious as the subject matter, and his use of parallelism at the end of the quote fittingly summarizes his message.  McKinley’s words embody the American spirit of democracy and encapsulate the accountability and progress he would like to see during his second term of office, the same progress he promised throughout his campaign.

McKinley’s calls for American accountability continue with his subsequent review of the nation’s involvement in the Philippines, which he finishes the address with.  Ending after his death in 1902, McKinley was overseeing an undeclared war against Filipino nationalists at the time of his address and throughout his campaign.  McKinley insists “the settled purpose, long ago proclaimed, to afford the inhabitants of the islands self-government as fast as they were ready for it will be pursued with earnestness and fidelity”.  Possibly in response to those questioning the war along the campaign trail and accusing McKinley of imperialism, he explains, “we are not waging war against the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands. A portion of them are making war against the United States. By far the greater part of the inhabitants recognize American sovereignty and welcome it as a guaranty of order and of security for life, property, liberty, freedom of conscience, and the pursuit of happiness”.  McKinley insinuates that American involvement in the Philippines is one of necessity – if not for national security, for the sake of Filipino freedom.  McKinley closes his address with his hope that the war “end without further bloodshed.”  Six months later, McKinley’s presidency would end in it following his assassination by Leon Czolgosz. 


“1900: McKinley v. Bryan” 

“Inaugural Address, March 4, 1901.” 

William McKinley. American President: An Online Reference Resource. 

William McKinley. 


1912–Bull Moose Speech–Emma Jekowsky

The election of 1912 was unprecedented for its time and remains today one of the most captivating pieces of political theater.  After a contentious convention struggle, William Jennings Bryan, himself a three-time presidential candidate and one of the country’s most powerful speakers, helped throw the Democratic nomination to Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey. The intellectual former president of Princeton University had served as governor for just over a year and would later appoint Bryan as Secretary of State. For their part, the Republican’s found themselves a house divided. Incumbent President William Howard Taft had his re-nomination challenged by the very man who had all but handed the office to him just four years earlier, former president Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s return to politics splintered the party, pitting his progressive followers against the establishment conservatives who favored the mild-mannered Taft. The convention virtually deadlocked before the powerful establishment forces were able to seal the nomination for President Taft. Roosevelt declared that “the bosses in control of the Republican party” had  “stolen the nomination and wrecked the political party” and announced that he would run as an independent on a progressive platform.1

It is as such that candidate Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Milwaukee on October 14th, 1912 to deliver one of many campaign speeches. It would be no ordinary speech.  While Roosevelt greeted supporters outside the auditorium John Schrank, a disturbed man who had “stalked TR for thousands of miles”2 stepped forward and shot him in the chest. As Roosevelt himself put it, “He shot to kill.”3 In an almost unbelievable act of fate the bullet hit the thick collection of paper in Roosevelt’s breast pocket on which he had prepared his remarks, slowing it down just enough to prevent it from killing him when it entered his body.  Wounded though he was, the ever boisterous former colonel insisted that he go on and give his speech regardless.

One can only imagine that the theatrics of the moment were not lost on Theodore Roosevelt, a man with a flare for the dramatic who had a “love of stagy arrivals.”4 He began his speech by alerting the crowd that he had just been shot but boasting that, “it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”5 This would become the most famous line of the speech and would forever earn his independent party the title “The Bull Moose Party.” From there he twice showed the audience where the bullet had entered his body, like Mark Antony displaying the wounds of Caesar, and stressed repeatedly his own devotion to his cause for a better life for all even if it came at the price of his own.  Roosevelt then seamlessly turned the attempt on his life into an attack against his political opponents. Speculating about what had driven his would be assassin to such an act, the former president asserted that:

Now, friends, of course, I do not know, as I say, anything about him; but it is a very natural thing that weak and vicious minds should be inflamed to acts of violence by the kind of awful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me for the last three months by the papers in the interest of not only Mr. Debs but of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Taft.6

Going further, he argued that his opponents could not:

Make the kind of untruthful, of bitter assault that they have made and not expect that brutal, violent natures, or brutal and violent characters, especially when the brutality is accompanied by a not very strong mind; they cannot expect that such natures will be unaffected by it.7

In essence, Roosevelt skillfully placed blame for the attempt on his life at the doorstep of his opponents.

Still perhaps the most telling characteristic of this political rhetoric is neither the theatrics of the speech nor Roosevelt’s handling of his wound, but the greater and subtler content of the speech itself. It is virtually entirely about Theodore Roosevelt. The word used significantly more often than any other is “I.” At one point he refers to the citizens as “my people”, and while he quickly corrects himself adding “our people” it is indicative of his true mentality.8 It is not until the later half of the speech that he addresses any type of policy or platform issue, and even although only briefly and through the context of what he had done throughout his career. While he frequently refers to his audience as his “friends” and briefly uses the repetition of the word “you” as a call to action later in his speech, the campaign is clearly and proudly the Teddy Roosevelt show.9  This is true and characteristic of Roosevelt’s lifestyle and career. Few men have so dominated the political landscape of an era as did Theodore Roosevelt, and arguably none have done it with such joy or by greater force of personality. Without an establishment ticket, his campaign was purely candidate driven and centered. It was the Bull Moose Party, and Theodore Roosevelt was the Bull Moose.


1. Roosevelt, Theodore. “”It Takes More Than That To Kill A Bull Moose”: The Leader and The Cause.” Theodore Roosevelt Association. Web. 22 Apr. 2011.
2. Roosevelt, Bull Moose Speech.
3. Roosevelt, Bull Moose Speech.
4. Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. Random House. New York. 2002.
5. Roosevelt, Bull Moose Speech.
6. Roosevelt, Bull Moose Speech.
7. Roosevelt, Bull Moose Speech.
8. Roosevelt, Bull Moose Speech.

1908–The Commoner–Kate Hamill

William Jennings Bryan was the Democratic presidential nominee during three different presidential elections. He ran unsuccessfully against McKinley and Taft. And as years progressed his following decreased immensely. However Bryan was an extremely influential and persuasive public speaker.

In 1896 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago Bryan delivered his famous Cross of Gold Speech. This speech advocated bimetallism.  During this time, the country was experiencing economic hardship. Bimetallism supporters believed replacing the gold standard with silver would have an adverse effect of inflation. (Cross of Gold) Bryan’s political party wanted to “standardize the value of the American Dollar to silver.” (Cross of Gold) The silver standard would make it easier on the poor to repay their debts. The poor were associated with careers such as farming and agriculture as well as other small local businesses. It was also believed that individuals would also have an easier time repaying debts if the gold standard was changed to the silver standard. This speech helped Bryan during his first campaign. Americans “believed themselves victimized by banks, railroads, and agricultural implement dealers, who prevented farmers’ economic progress. That belief, coupled with sagging commodity prices, drought, high taxes, interest rates, and excessive freight charges, led farmers and other Americans to look for assistance” (Wunder). Bryan is who these Americans turned to. Many like the idea of the silver standard, but not enough to vote him into office.

During the next Presidential election Bryan moved from his silver standard platform to an anti-imperialism platform. However, there were times during this campaign where he combined the two policies. He was recorded saying “The nation is of age and it can do what it pleases; it can spurn the traditions of the past; it can repudiate the principles upon which the nation rests; it can employ force instead of reason; it can substitute might for right; it can conquer weaker people; it can exploit their lands, appropriate their property and kill their people; but it cannot repeal the moral law or escape the punishment decreed for the violation of human rights” (Hibben) Republicans mocked his “indecisiveness” and referred to him as a coward. It has been said that Henry Littlefield portrayed his Cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, off of Bryan during this campaign.  On August 8, 1900 Bryan gave another speech. This time its focus was on anti-imperialism.  Most of the speech shows his support for equality. However he goes into detail discussing other nation’s practices. He sets the stage for his opinion as well as the opinion held by the Democratic Party. Bryan does a good job of using past presidents and political leader’s ideals, and policies to convince the American people of “what we should do now.” Though not expressed directly in this speech Bryan also perused avenues that supported Prohibition (without taking a direct stand on the matter) and attacked Darwinism beliefs.

Around this time period Bryan produced a weekly magazine titled: “The Commoner.”  When he first produced the magazine he was calling for the help of his fellow Democrats. He wanted the Democratic Party to take the incentive in dissolving banking-trusts and regulating the railroad more closely. (William Jennings Bryan) Bryan believed that creating this magazine would generate followers, which he believed would indirectly help him win the 1908 Presidential election. He wanted “to take his message to the people through the most widely accessible medium for political expression available. Contemporaries often called Bryan the voice and hope of the people, the orator of small-town America and the mouthpiece for Jeffersonian democracy” (Wunder) The magazine ran from 1901-1923, and each edition presented “his personal, political and moral agendas, including his domestic policy support for business regulation, citizens’ ballot initiatives and referenda, the political primary nomination system and, in foreign policy, an anti-imperialist stance.” (Wunder) During the later years of the magazine Bryan attacked and undermined his opponents through the articles. He attacked numerous government agencies and leaders, which some believe helped him get appointed Secretary of State during the Wilson years. While Bryan was sitting Secretary or War, the magazine continued to endorse particular candidates for leadership positions and was noted as an extremely influential magazine.

At the end of the magazine’s life it began to take another approach. The magazine’s articles were less about the government, and Bryan’s political agendas and more about his religious beliefs. William Jennings Bryan has been noted as one of America’s leading men in politics during the turn of the century and many give credit to his speeches and this magazine as a factor.


“Cross of Gold.” 30 March 2011. Wikipedia. 20 April 2011      

Hibben, Paxton. The Peerless Leader, William Jennings Bryan. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1929.

“William Jennings Bryan.” 20 April 2011. Wikipedia. 20 April 2011.     

Wunder, John. “William Jennings Bryan: The Commoner.” 9 Febrary 2010. Jnews. 20 April 2011      

1908–Puck Cartoon–Kate Hamill

In the late 1800s German political cartoonist Joseph Kepler created and founded America’s first humor magazine. Named for the mischievous Fairy in Shakespeare’s “Mid Summer Night dream,” Puck was only published in German. After a year of distribution and extreme popularity Puck rose to the top. It was then printed in both English and German. In 1920 publishers continued producing the English edition, but discontinued the German edition. The periodical was designed for criticizing and commenting on governments and political leadership through colorful political cartoons, caricatures and political satire. Puck primarily favored bourbon democrats. These democrats were considered conservative, classical liberals. The magazine also favored large corporations like banks and railroads. It was also said to support German American ideals and proficiently attack Irish Americans. Historians believe that the artists of the magazine enjoyed depicting political leaders over everything else, especially during political campaigns.

Released during the 1908 presidential campaign Samuel Ehrhart constructed a political cartoon depicting Theodore Roosevelt handing a baby off to William Taft. It was a popular piece of rhetoric during the campaign.  Shown here on the right one can see the importance of Taft and Roosevelt’s comradely and friendship.  

 Roosevelt had been the President of the United States from 1901-1909 and decided not to run for a third term. It was believed that Roosevelt hand- picked Taft for the position and was going to do everything in his power to make sure that Taft won the presidential election. Teddy Roosevelt is depicted here as a cowboy. He was often depicted as a cowboy because of his robust “masculinity”. Though Roosevelt was neither from the South nor the West he remained true to his Cowboy association. Before becoming President, Theodore purchased land in North Dakota where he was able to practice his cowboy nature and experiment with land protection.  In the early 1900 Cowboys were hired to maintain ranches and cattle. They often maintained and protected the land and its surroundings, which in some ways is easily compared to the principles of commander and chief.

In the background a bell hop is carrying Teddy’s “big stick”. The stick refers to Teddy’s popular saying “speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far”. Roosevelt used this message while negotiating the Monroe Doctrine.  He made it clear that he was willing to negotiate, but in a threatening manner. The big stick was representing Roosevelt’s military ties and the force behind them. Roosevelt was known to use his “big stick” metaphor continually throughout his presidency. The bellhop in this photo was meant to depict William Loeb, Roosevelt’s right hand man and head of advisors.  William Loeb was an extremely knowledgeable political leader, but was mostly in the background. Loeb was given credit for assisting the President in the decision of not running for a third term. Loeb also assisted in finding a good replacement candidate that Roosevelt could endorse.  

The baby in the picture is meant to depict the responsibilities of the presidency. Here Roosevelt is handing his responsibilities to Taft, who is well prepared in his maid’s uniform to accept the ongoing responsibilities. As one can see, the baby looks like Roosevelt because it is supposed to represent all his own plans and policies. The baby looks as though he will allow Taft to hold him, however it is clear that he would rather be held by Roosevelt.

Taft is depicted here as a man in a maid’s uniform. This has multiple dimensions of its own. Firstly, under his maid’s uniform is a suit, which shows Taft’s professionalism as the President to be. However the maid’s uniform shows his loyalty to Roosevelt as a servant of his plans, responsibilities, and policies for the country.

Samuel Ehrhart used his knowledge of history and the presidency to create this political advertisement.  As it was distributed around the United States many Americans saw the add for what it was. It was viewed as Roosevelt leaving office, and handing all his responsibilities and policies to Taft. It was reassuring to the American people that Roosevelt left the office in good hands.  He had left the presidency up to Taft, which was fine because Taft had the same beliefs and plans that Roosevelt had when he left office. The magazine also created several cartoons which completely discredited William Jennings Bryan.